Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Helping our children (and ourselves) cope when mistreated, bullied, or teased:

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone always treated everyone else with kindness, fairness, and grace? That's how it will be in heaven -- in the fullness of the kingdom of God. That's how it should be in that part of God's kingdom on earth -- among those whose hearts are surrendered to the Lord's reign.

Sadly, that's not always how the kingdom of the world works. Each and every one of us can think of a time when we have been hurt by someone's favoritism, cliquishness, selfishness, insensitivity, harshness, thoughtless teasing, and cutting words. Each of us can also probably think of a time when we hurt someone else in the same manner. Perhaps, we didn't mean to; perhaps, we knew exactly what we were doing when we let some bitter words fly. Or, maybe, we inflicted harm on someone by lashing back at them when they hurt us. At any rate, learning to treat others in a more Christlike manner is an important issue in life.

As mothers, we can usually handle slights directed toward us more than we can bear the hurts our children may face. Nothing can arouse a mother's protective instincts faster than knowing another child is picking on her child. I can remember feeling that mother bear rise up within me when our children were once taunted by another child in our neighborhood.

Yet, it is so important that we respond to such situations in a Christlike manner. Our children take our cues from us. If we fall apart over these matters, our children will feel victimized and hopeless in the face of mistreatment from others. On the other hand, if we view these situations as an opportunities for training our children in godliness, they very well might develop stronger character and sweeter faith.

To refrain from overreacting may take great prayer on our part. We may need to strengthen our own faith that the best way to defeat evil is to overcome it with good (I Peter 3:8-9). We may also need to forgive hurts from our own childhood, if we have not already done so. Once we have dealt with our own hearts, we can teach our children to meet childhood slights with peaceful and forgiving hearts.

Fortunately, Jesus gives us and our children guidelines for dealing with people who do not have our best interests in mind:

"You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, so with him two. Give to him who asks you, and turn from him who wants to borrow from you, do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy', but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, for He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? and if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not ever tax collectors do so? Therefore, you shall be perfect, just your father in heaven is perfect." Matthew 5:39-48

In this passage, Jesus stands our worldly values on end. We may not put it as bluntly as 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth', but, deep down inside, we think we are justified for taking action against someone who has hurt us. And, we may feel even more justified in teaching our children to strike back when hurt. We also tend to shrink back from those who are hard to love and to surround ourselves only with people who think the way we do and who treat us the way we want to be treated. We may isolate our hearts, and our children may do so, as well.

However, our goal for ourselves and our goal for our children is not to act according to the impulses of our sinful natures. Instead, our aim is to become like our Father in heaven -- to trade in our earthly values for his heavenly ones. The Father does have a day of reckoning in store for those who reject what Christ did for us on the cross; his holiness and his justice demand it even as his love offered chances for reconciliation through the cross. Until, then, however, he sends blessings upon everyone in the hope that people will repent and turn to Him. His love is perfect, complete, and impartial.

"Nevertheless, he did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." Acts 14:17

..."since He give to all life, breath, and all things, and He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." Acts 17:25-26

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us...For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His son, much more having been reconciled, we hall be saved by His life." Romans 5

In light of our Father's perfect love, how do we teach our children to respond to others in a godly way, even when hurt? Here are some thoughts from the instructions Jesus gave us:

1) Pray for those who spitefully use you: One thing we can always do for someone else is to pray for them. We can teach our children to do the same. Who knows? You and your child may be the only people in the world who care enough for a playground tyrant to pray for him or her. Your prayers could make a difference in that child's destiny for this life and for eternity. At the very least, it will keep your own hearts from being filled with bitterness and unforgiveness.

Jesus prayed even for those who were crucifying him in the moment: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." He is our example. Not only that, but He died for us when we were still his enemies, for whose sins He chose to die. In asking us to pray for and to love our enemies, He is not asking us to do anything He has not done for us.

2) Do good to those who hate you: I recently heard of a little girl whose lunch was stolen by another. She and her mother prepared two lunches the next day, one for her and one for the lunch thief with a note on it that said, "You must have needed a lunch. I want you to have this one." Teach your child to overcome his or her fears and hurts by actively and creatively doing good. Likely, your child's kindness will turn his or her foe into a friend, though, perhaps, it won't. No matter how the other child responds, your child will have the peace of knowing that he or she responded in a way that pleases the Lord.

3) Bless those who curse you: Spite breeds spite. We can think of so much misery in the world that is caused by people behaving in a tit for tat behavior: resentments in marriage, neighborhood feuds, dissensions in the workplace, family squabbles, gang wars, wars between nations, etc -- and, sad to say, sometimes even problems in churches. Yet, if we respond by being a blessing in the lives of others, we stop the chain of anger and violence. We may even transform that downward cycle into a chain of blessing. If we commit ourselves to blessing others, no matter how they act, we are refusing to let the behavior of others dominate and control us. Instead, we are surrendering to the control of the Lord, who works all things for good. Wouldn't you rather be an instrument through which God brings blessing to the world than someone who adds to the great pile of anger and hurt?

4) Trust the Lord, and teach your children to trust the Lord. I Peter 2 tells us that Jesus bore the injustice of the cross without retaliating, because he trusted the One who judges justly. It's a great comfort knowing that we can leave our defense in the Father's hands, without feeling the pressure to right the wrongs done to us, ourselves. Vengeance and judgment belong to the Lord; our part is to trust Him and to faithfully do his will. Children who learn this lesson early in life will grow up with peaceful spirits, rather than nursing bitterness and strife in their hearts. They know that life here on earth may not always be fair. However, they also know that they serve a fair and merciful Lord who will make all things right. They will remember how Jesus forgave them on the cross, and they will be able to extend that forgiveness to others.

5) As loving parents, we may prayerfully decide that we do need to take some steps to protect our child in a particular situation. We may need to put some limits on a friendship that our child has. We may need to talk to another parent about their child's behavior. We may need to alert a child's teacher about a classroom bully. We may even need to remove a child from harm's way, either for a short time or permanently. Even if we must take such protective steps, however, we can do so calmly and with an attitude of loving prayer for all parties involved. We can also teach our child to pray for all involved, as well.

Childhood hurts may sometimes seem trivial to us, but they can leave deep scars in a child's heart. If a child internalizes lots of taunts and slights, he or she may become fearful, insecure, and shy -- not to mention angry or bitter. It's up to us to show our children how to respond to hurts with love, forgiveness, and trust in the Lord. This frees their hearts to be secure and confident in God's love.



Buffy said...

Good post. I loved the story about the mother who sent in two lunches after someone took her daughter's. It's always refreshing to see people actually acting out Jesus' words instead of just preaching them.

Christy said...

Thank you for sharing this. I really enjoyed it and am encouraged by your words.

Linda from Georgia said...

I am researching the issue of bullying. Everything I've read deals with this hurtful behavior from a secular level. I agree with you, that the Church should be logical responders to targets AND bullies. The best way we can deal with bullying in schools, is to teach those who witness mean acts to respond with love and courage. I'm looking forward to seeing where God takes me with this.

Elizabeth said...

Hello Buffy, Christy, and Linda -- Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

Angela said...

thanks for your insight. we dealt with some bullying 2 years ago when my oldest went to a 2 day/wk preschool - i was just shocked that it could start that early, and my mother bear instinct really came to the forefront!

my oldest daughter was only 4, but she was old enough to understand that 1)it was my job to protect her, and i was not going to let this continue and 2)it was our duty to show compassion and Christlikeness to this girl, because she must have a lot of anger and sadness in her heart to be so mean at such a tender age.

it became a wonderful opportunity for my daughter to learn that her parents will protect her and shield her as our Father shields and guards us all and that by showing kindness and compassion we can be an incredible witness to all of those surrounding us.